Doing God’s work (part 2)

Some of us don’t deal well with pressure. When accused of doing something wrong, we start pointing fingers at others.

When God discovered that the man and woman he created had eaten from the forbidden tree, God confronted the man: “Did you eat from the tree?” A straightforward enough question, deserving an equally straightforward answer. Adam’s response, however, was, “It’s her fault. She made me do it. And by the way, if you hadn’t put her here in the garden in the first place, none of this would have happened.” God therefore confronted Eve: “What have you done?” Eve’s equally creative response: “It’s that snake of a snake. He made me do it” (Gen 3:8-13).

It wasn’t humanity’s most shining moment.

As we saw in the previous post, Jesus healed a man who had been lame for nearly four decades. The man didn’t ask for healing and didn’t know who Jesus was. Jesus took the initiative and healed him with the command to get up and walk.

That’s when the trouble began.

It was the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day whose observance was central to Jewish identity. Rabbis had gone to great lengths to describe what could and could not be done on that day, to delineate which daily activities would be considered forbidden work.

Unfortunately, walking around carrying your mat was one of the forbidden activities. Even if you’d been lying on it for 38 years.

When the Jewish leaders (probably Pharisees) saw this, they confronted him: “You shouldn’t be carrying your mat during Shabbat. It’s against the Law.”

The response:  “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’ ” (John 5:11, CEB).

Notice two things about his reply. First, the man highlights the fact that he had been miraculously healed, as if to say, “Shouldn’t that count for something? Is carrying my mat the only thing that matters here?” There could be a nascent faith there.

But second, he also seems to reflexively point away from himself, deflecting the criticism: “Hey, don’t look at me. The other guy told me to do it.”

The Pharisees, of course, take the bait and respond accordingly. They ask nothing about the healing. All they want to know is who this other contemptuous law-breaker might be. But the healed man can’t tell them, because he doesn’t know.

Later, Jesus finds the man in the temple, and tells him to stop sinning.

His response is to rat Jesus out.

Maybe, just maybe, he went to the authorities with evangelistic fervor. Maybe he went to them as a newly minted disciple, to proudly proclaim the name of Jesus: You wanted to know who the guy was? It’s Jesus of Nazareth, and I’m his for life!

But I don’t think so. Despite the great gift he had received, he betrayed Jesus to the authorities because he was scared of what might happen if he didn’t.

You might want the gospel story to have a bit more of a Disney-like tone. When Jesus heals someone, the person should swoon with gratitude. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Jesus is not working to earn the loyalty of a growing fan base. He’s doing his Father’s work.

And even that will get him in trouble. More in the next post.